Archive for March, 2012

Health

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

Matthew 25:35-40

This week, across our campus, the issue of mental health is being highlighted through a variety of services, discussions, and opportunities in a program aptly called Mental Health Awareness Week. Undoubtedly, each of our lives have been touched—some more immediately than others—by those suffering from mental illness. The impact those contacts have can be both dramatic and lasting. More directly, many of us have suffered or are suffering from either acute or chronic occurrences of mental illness. Having lived for many years with a grandparent who suffered from severe mental illness, I speak from personal experience at the tearing and often silent destruction that mental illness can have on the one suffering from the illness and those who love them. Yet, what I am not saying is that mental illness is something we should automatically fear. Reflecting on his own difficulties, the writer Parker Palmer has come to embrace his own bouts with crippling depression as a welcomed friend, enriching his experience of life, marking his personal boundaries, and providing a unique solidarity with a wider world that suffers.

I am more interested in considering how we learn to live faithfully and compassionately into the reality that surrounds each of us.

As we struggle to understand mental illness through a variety of opportunities this week, I, particularly, want intentionally to imagine the role that faith and our faith communities might have in this conversation. To help us enter this conversation, the work of Monica Coleman, Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology, proves a useful interlocutor. Breaking from my standard practice, below, I include a recent article Coleman wrote on this very subject.

Have a great week and see you around campus at one of the many events planned for this important week:

Monday: Self Image
Confidence Guerilla Theatre at 10:30pm in the Student Center
Tuesday: Relationships
Gay-Straight Alliance Sponsored Movie at 6pm in Goolsby 104
Wednesday: Suicide Prevention
7pm in the Chapel
Thursday: Post Secrets
All-day and Campus-wide
Friday: Reflection
7pm in the Chapel

Mental Health Awareness Week: Will Churches Look After The Sick?
By Monica Coleman

When I was a teenager, I liked a boy who attempted suicide. I remember calling his home on an ordinary day. His mother answered the phone and told me a harrowing story of how she came home, and found his tall lanky body in the bathtub with blood spilling into the water and onto the floor. He had cut his wrists, she said. As she heard me gasp, she assured me that he was still alive, and at an in-patient treatment center. She would be sure to tell him that I called.

Months later, I sat next to my friend in his mother’s house. I held his hands in mine and asked, “Can I see?”

He turned his palms upwards revealing the lifetime reminder of the depths of depression and the act of the desperate. Although he assured me that he was okay now, I said nothing. Torn between sadness for his pain and happiness for his survival, I said nothing.

I had basic information about depression — the kind one gets from 9th grade health class and after-school specials — but I had no way to understand it, up close, in someone I cared for. I had, I would eventually learn, no way to understand it in myself. I didn’t know the slippage between teenage angst, frustration and grief to melancholy, depression and suicidal ideation. I didn’t know what separated my own bare wrists from the scarred wrists of my friend.

Although my friend was not particularly religious, I was. I had been raised in the church. My youth group at church was one of my primary social worlds. I spent my weekends and some weeknights in drama ministry, youth choir, Sunday school, church tutoring, Vacation Bible School, etc.

My church, like many others, conveyed messages about mental health:
• Parishioners thanked God for “waking up clothed and in their right minds”
• I had heard the story of a man named Legion in Mark 5:1-20 and concluded that crazy people were demon-possessed
• I had heard people say that depression was a result of insufficient faith or failing to count one’s blessings
• I had heard prayers for congregants with cancer, diabetes and heart disease… but never for people who were struggling with their mental health

I had little language for thinking about mental illness, and no faith for living with it.

I now wonder what might have happened if I had ever heard a minister preach about mental health. When the church quoted Matthew 25:35-40 about how we should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and look after the sick, people living with mental health challenges didn’t count. What would I have thought if we had prayed for people living with depressions, schizophrenias, or borderline personality disorders like we prayed for people who were diagnosed with diabetes or who had heart attacks?

Would I have been able to tell my friend that God loves him, no matter what? Would I have known an adult to whom I felt safe sharing my own feelings? Could I have understood that prayer and gratitude lists did not cure depression? Or, more importantly, might I have known that my debilitating sadness did not mean I lacked faith? Might I have known that I didn’t have to pretend I was really happy?

Perhaps my minister didn’t know much about mental health. Perhaps the pastor didn’t have much information about what churches could do. I know that clergy need to be educated about mental health. They need to preach about it, teach about it, and have relationships with local mental health care professionals.

This is an ideal time for individuals and communities to learn about mental illness and offer solidarity and hope to those who live with mental health challenges. Oct. 2-8, 2011 is Mental Health Awareness Week. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), offers special resources for faith communities with suggestions on what clergy and laity can do.

While it may seem like a lot to ask of religious leaders, it’s actually easier for young people and adults to get to clergy than it is to get to a mental health professional. According to NAMI, churches, temples, mosques and faith communities reach 70 percent of the American population each month. Clergy outnumber psychiatrists by nearly 10 to one, and are more equitably distributed geographically than health professionals.

More importantly, religious communities are best-positioned to respond to the faith issues that arise for people who live with and love those who live with mental illnesses. They can tell us that our condition is not a result of angering or disappointing or failing God.

There are many faithful people who live with mental health challenges. Most of the time, we walk amongst the regular praying-public as if we are invisible. But we are in congregations, Bible studies and prayer meetings wondering if there is a place for us there. We wonder if there is room for us to be honest about our struggles. We are waiting to hear our stories from places that we recognize as holy.

Spring

Posted in Uncategorized on March 19, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

While an early-arrived guest, we officially welcome spring at Young Harris College this week. To help cast off any lingering winter dormancy, Robert Frost’s musings on the new season about to begin waft over us like a warm afternoon breeze, drawing us into a new consciousness. Enjoy your reading and join us this week in chapel while we reflection on the faithful yet unlikely friendship between David and Jonathan. In our own expression of burgeoning new life, join us in chapel, too, as one of our own, Marcus McGill—a senior at YHC—preaches for the first in our chapel. Marcus, following graduation, will be pursuing his call to ministry in seminary.

Have a great Monday.

“Spring Pools” by Robert Frost

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods —
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

Dwells

Posted in Uncategorized on March 12, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

—Revelation 1:1-2

 

What is the good news in the Book of Revelation?  That is a good question.  From dragons to blood to fiery skies to deep pits, the book of John’s apocalypse includes everything—it seems—except good news.  But, that is the question, i.e., the quest for the essence of the gospel or good news couched in the various parts of the Bible, that we are reflecting upon this year.  Therefore, some good news must be somewhere in John’s writing . . . shouldn’t it? To try to uncover this buried good news, first, we need to understand better the character of the Book of Revelation. 

 

To start our dig for Revelation’s good news, we need to consider the categories of time and place. 

 

The Book of Revelation is written at a certain time in the history of Christian writing and within a particular community of readers, a community of readers familiar with specific kinds of imagery and ways of viewing the world. 

 

The Book of Revelation is one of several books that falls within what is called Johannine literature.  Those New Testament writings include the Gospel of John, the pastoral letters of John, and John’s Apocalypse or what we call the Book of Revelation.  Scholarly consensus is that this set of writings was not necessarily written by the same person but within a community of persons formed around the disciple John early in the Christian movement.  This community interpreted the story of Jesus in a very particular way, a way that was shaped not just by the life and resurrection of Jesus but also by a traumatic event that happened in the year 70 CE. 

 

In the year 70 CE, the anti-Roman energies within the Jewish communities coalesced and revolted against their Roman occupiers, attempting to expel the Romans from Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine.  To make a long story short, the Jews failed, the temple was destroyed, and everyone within the Jewish community was looking for someone to blame. 

 

There was no consensus on whom or what group might be most responsible, but several candidates emerged.  One of those popular candidates to receive the blame for the nearly total annihilation of what was left of Jewish identity was a dissident and politically agitating group of Jews who followed a different king, saw themselves as embodying an alternative political reality, and called themselves Christians.  Now, whether or not Christians can be legitimately accused of instigating the uprising of 70 CE is of little import.  Such details are lost in the fog of history.  Rather, what is certain is that soon after the failure of the revolt, Jews and Christian-Jews formally and acrimoniously part ways.  As a result, the Christians find themselves not just as a minority within a larger minority community but a targeted and vulnerable conspicuous minority separate from all other faith traditions in the ancient near east.

 

And, this stark division between this newly formed Christian sect and the rest of Judaism and all other faiths and peoples is evident in the language, imagery, and conceptual underpinnings of all of the Johannine writings that follow this severing of the old with the new.  It is no surprise that the unambiguous language of light and dark permeates the Johannine community’s writings and that such imagery almost exclusively is found in that community’s writings, writings that are some of the latest and only New Testament texts written after 70 CE.  In other words, things had radically changed.  The church’s writings reflected this dramatic, separated, new reality.  So, understanding the time during which the Book of Revelation is written is important because this book captures the tenor of the new circumstance in which the church finds itself, a circumstance of alienation, oppression, separation, and desperation looking for hope, healing, and final victory. 

 

In this turbulent world, the pen of the writer of the Apocalypse finds parchment. 

 

If the time of the writing of this book is important, then the place of its writing is as important, too.  And, by place, I am not referring to the locale of the book’s writing on Patmos but referring to its placement within the scope of literary genres of the day and to its final placement at the end of the New Testament canon.

 

John’s “apocalypse” (or “revelation” as it is translated from the original Greek) is a type of literature found within the Jewish community written during a very short portion of the history of Jewish writing and penned almost exclusively during times when Jews found themselves a targeted political minority.  (Their being political targets is significant in the character of the writings.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.) 

 

The first of the apocalyptic writings that seeps from Jewish pens is the Old Testament book of Daniel, written around the time that the Greeks were desecrating the temple in Jerusalem and that the rebellious Maccabees were asserting Jewish independence and rallying Jewish nationalism in the second century BCE.  This form of Jewish writing ended, roughly, with the writing of John’s Revelation and the final disbursement and delusion of Jews throughout the Roman Empire following the revolt of 70 CE, a disbursement that would remain until the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 CE. 

 

As such, apocalyptic literature is always political in nature.  But, more importantly for our purposes, apocalyptic literature is always a political commentary on the times in which it is written, written as a critique of the, then, current political powers and written in code as not to endanger the oppressed minority for whom it is written.  Like a letter written by the resistance in Vichy France or a song sung along the Underground Railroad, this medium uses dual meanings both to protect and encourage the intended readers. 

 

Daniel’s and John’s apocalypse are no different. 

 

Daniel’s text labored to inspire Jews to resist their Greek oppressors and remain faithful to Yahweh by drawing upon Israel’s resistance and survival during their exile to Babylon.  Similarly, John’s text recalls the creation stories and their narration of God’s triumph over chaos and good’s supremacy and originality in opposition to evil’s triviality and temporality to generate hope and stamina within the emerging Christian community following their expulsion from the synagogues in 80 CE and their lingering persecution under both local and imperial forces.

 

Importantly, the early church’s decision to “place” John’s Revelation at the end of the New Testament in the fourth century CE is significant. (Importantly, the Book of Revelation does not appear to be the final/last book of the New Testament written.) By placing the Book of Revelation last, the crafters of the New Testament seek to give the apocalyptic literature it represents a new purpose.  Originally, apocalyptic literature was never meant to be about predicting the future. (That is a very modern assumption.)  Rather, apocalyptic literature was always an interpretation of the present. 

 

However, by placing the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament, the church shifts the focus of John’s apocalypse away from a very specific rallying cry of hope and victory for those oppressed early Christians trying to find courage in the midst of both Jewish and imperial hostility.  In other words, the editors of the New Testament felt that the Book of Revelation still had and has something to say. And, that message is found in imagery used at the end of John’s revelation. There, we have a vision of a garden with rivers and a tree of life, echoing the original creation imagery found in the Genesis story.  The editors of the New Testament are using their placement of the Book of Revelation to make a grand and ultimate theological claim. 

 

Those New Testament editors’ shift in focus redirects the interpretive energies of the text away from simply a commentary on Roman oppression to a generalized affirmation that, in the end, God created out of good and will restore goodness to that creation and that while chaos seems to hold sway at times, in the end, God takes chaos and turns it into a new and peaceful creation.  And, John—and the New Testament editors—see this creation out of chaos as the distilled essence of the Gospel. 

 

In the penultimate chapter of this book (and the Bible), John says: “‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’“

 

This passage at the end of all the tumult that is the Book of Revelation envisions a world in ultimate peace, as it was originally created to be.  And, embedded in this final refrain is the entire hope of the Gospel central to John’s community and this text:  “God will dwell with them.”  In the garden of Eden, in the incarnation story of the Son, in the Pentecostal descending of the Spirit, in the concluding vision of the Apocalypse relayed by John, what finally matters is that God is with us, we are with God, and we share in a peaceful existence with each other as a counter-witness to what might seem conversely to be the case. 

 

This declaration of final, triumphant, peaceful co-dwelling is the good news of John’s Revelation.  And, that sounds like a pretty “good” ending to a (Divine) story to me.